Your house is not a spaceship: the whole world is your home

SA 95

For one hundred plus years, Americans have been told that owning a home embodies the ideal, an essential life goal. After the housing crash of 2008, that unquestioned ideal is no more. What precisely is wrong with renting? And what is wrong with renting something small?

My ideal home has two rooms: a bedroom to sleep in, and a kitchen to cook in. These days, I live in Atlanta, Georgia. A few days a week, my wife and I take our daughter to the park next door, which is in an upscale neighborhood. Occasionally we strike up conversations with the other parents there. Sooner or later, the question of where we live comes up, and we casually mention that we live in an apartment complex. I still remember the first reaction to my answer – I was instantly branded as a member of the lower-class. At this point, any chance of a play date or further social connection was permanently rejected.

 

Sophie in the parkThese days, I live in Atlanta, Georgia.  A few days a week, my wife and I take our daughter to the park next door, which is in an upscale neighborhood.  Occasionally we strike up conversations with the other parents there.  Sooner or later, the question of where we live comes up, and we casually mention that we live in an apartment complex.  I still remember the first reaction to my answer – I was instantly branded as a member of the lower-class.  At this point, any chance of a play date or further social connection was permanently rejected.

Home Ownership and Social Status

minimalism

It’s true – my family of three lives in a small one-bedroom apartment. It’s a pretty nice apartment, in a good neighborhood, but that’s irrelevant. The fact that I have not bought a house for my family makes us outcasts, poor, financially irresponsible, or otherwise unsuitable for social company. Wouldn’t any responsible parent get a home for their children?

Most Fridays, some friends of ours come over to our complex so our kids can play in the pool. Having a pool next door is one of the perks of living in an apartment complex. Living next to a big city park is another. Living next to my office, so I can get to work in less than five minutes is a third. I spend less of my life in traffic – and I spend it on my bike.

If the parents at the park bothered to ask, they would learn that living in a small apartment is a lifestyle choice, not something we do out of financial necessity. In fact, chances are good that our financial situation is betterthan theirs — and a big part of that is our decision not to buy a home. I’m won’t rehash the reasons for that here – read theseposts.

What I want to address is the American habit of treating the home as a spaceship — a self-contained ecosystem which is expected to provide for all their needs.

It Takes a Village

Summer 1985 LitinWhen I was a little boy growing up in Ukraine, from the age of six on, I would wander our village all day, coming in only for meals.  Often I would have to be found and dragged in.  I wandered around the stadium and construction sites, using the frames and air ducts of buildings as makeshift jungle gym, the piles of sand as targets for jumping from the second floor.  

When we moved to San Antonio, I spent entire days exploring the city by bike, even in the middle of summer.   I dared myself to go as far from our house as possible, limited only by my supply of water in the 100 degree heat, and the need to be back before dark (I was too poor for a bike light).  

From the time I was a small child to today, my home has always been a place to eat and sleep, and occasionally work.  However, when I want social company, entertainment, play, adventure, a place to concentrate on work, or relax, it is far lower on my list of options.  

A Different Ideal

My ideal home is just two rooms: a bedroom to sleep in, and a kitchen to cook in.   These are things which I have personal preferences about and am willing to maintain.  Everything else, I am quite willing to outsource for someone else to maintain.  Every extra square foot or possession is a liability – a square foot I have to spend time maintaining rather than enjoying life.

The other day, our three year old daughter was playing with her rocking horse.  She had flipped it over and was pretending that it was a kitchen stove.  She asked me if I wanted some eggs and then pantomimed in surprising detail the process of cracking eggs, washing hands, frying eggs over easy, and serving them to me.  I remarked to my wife that perhaps Sophie needs a play kitchen.  She said no – first, as I just saw, her imagination served her just fine, and second, she knows how to cook many foods because she has helped her mommy many times in a real kitchen.  She has her own kitchen utensils, including a sharp knife and a vegetable peeler, and helps out to the best of her physical and mental abilities.

The real world is her playground. When she needs to burn off energy, she goes to the park. When she wants to be creative, she plays with legos and paint. When she wants social company, she plays with us or friends. (We have a maximum of an hour of screen time per day.)

Sophie - Arabia Mountain, GeorgiaThe real world is my playground too. When I want to relax, I meditate in the park. When I want to exercise, I ride my bike around the city. If I want adventure – well, the Appalachian trail starts less than two hours North from here. When I want to concentrate, I go to the office next door. When I want social company, I go to the pool or cafe. When I want entertainment – well, usually I’m too busy living my own life to follow the stories Hollywood comes up with, but my laptop screen works just fine.

There are many examples I could give, but my point is: your house is not a spaceship lost in space. Whether your have a family or live alone, make the whole world your home. It’s far bigger and more wonderful than any poor imitation you could try to recreate on your own. I’m not saying that you should never buy a house. Just don’t make it your life ambition, much less try to fit your entire life inside it.

Originally posted at FEE.org

Five ways to improve your communications skills

How good are your communication skills? How often do you feel that misunderstandings get in the way of your personal relationships or your career? Do you ever avoid talking to people because you don’t know how to express what you feel, or because you are afraid that you will be misunderstood?

What if you could dramatically improve the effectiveness of your spoken and written communication? Would it increase your confidence when speaking to coworkers, friends, and romantic interests? Would you take more chances if you could speak directly to someone’s mind, almost as if you had a telepathic connection with your listener?

The problem with most people’s communication skills is that they think that it is an innate talent. They think that if you’re not a smart, good-looking extrovert with a good voice, you can never be a great communicator. It’s true that these things help. But just because you’re tall and have strong legs doesn’t mean that you can win a gold medal at the olympics. And even if you are short and weak by nature, doesn’t mean that you can’t double or triple your performance. Of course, no workout will make you two feet taller. But unlike your body, your brain is very flexible.

You might think that speaking is something we learn automatically, and don’t have much control over. It’s true that we learn how to talk automatically and subconsciously, just like we learned to run automatically. But, just as a trained athlete can run faster and longer than an amateur, so can a conscious effort to improve your skills vastly improve your performance.

Here are five tips:

One: Less is more.

Paying attention is hard. It takes an effort to follow what someone is saying. Don’t make that effort any harder than it absolutely has to be. Keep it simple. Keep it short. Keep it focused.

Long and unusual words take longer to recognize than smaller and more familiar words. Many people use a stilted academic tone when they have something important to say. Don’t do it. Don’t say comprehend, say understand, or follow, or just get. Don’t go on an harangue, tirade, or diatribe, go on a rant.

Same goes for sentence and paragraph size. Ditto for analogies and figures of speech. They need an extra mental cross-reference. Just say it. Don’t give me a piece of your mind. Just say it. And whatever you do, cut it out with the likes and the umms, and the you know. You need to take mental breaks when speaking, but just practice making them silent. Your perceived competency will immediately go up 50%. Yes, I just made that number up. Here’s another made up rule: if your finished work is not 30% shorter than your first draft, it’s too long.

Two: Use relevant visual examples.

Your brain is just a big network of triggers made up of images, sounds, tastes, and sensations. If you want me to remember what you said, you need to tie some of those triggers to what you just said. Use examples I know. If you want us to go out for sushi, remind me of the smoked salmon we ate last week. Yes, examples are not just for English class. See? That’s another one.

Good examples are about important things your audience is already familiar with. Don’t talk to young people about how you applied conflict resolution to your mother in law. Talk about your parents. Talk about shiny, fast, loud, dangerous, smelly things if you want to create strong mental triggers to your message.

Three: No distractions.

“Cue words” are concepts that can trigger emotional responses that block rational analysis. For example, democracy, Obama, guns, abortion. Just by saying those words, I’ve triggered a whole cascade of mental activity. Regardless of your political orientation, your mind is now busy trying to classify me into friend, enemy, or maybe just trying to think of something intelligent to say about them. Don’t distract me by mentioning things that trigger distracting emotional responses, or words with a whole host of irrelevant connotations. I’m not saying that you should not talk about controversial topics – just don’t distract the reader with them unnecessarily, even if you think he sides with you.

Four: Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Repetition is crucial to forming long-term memory. You’ve heard this before: say what you’re going to say, say it, then say what you said. Here’s an advanced trick: you can improve memorization by using spaced repetition. Make your point then repeat it with increasing intervals of time between each repetition.

Five: Five or less.

Most people can only keep a limited number of ideas in their immediate memory at once. Once they exceed that number, they are going to forget some of the things they learned. For most people, that number is five. So regardless of the topic, organize your presentation or argument so that you never list more than five items for any given category.

The five tips are: less is more, use relevant examples, no distractions, repeat, repeat repeat, and five points or less.

Four reasons to practice evidence-based medicine

Few people would openly admit that they prefer irrational treatments and doctors.  But most people do in fact advocate irrational health practices – using pseudonyms for “irrational” as “holistic,” “alternative,” “homeopathic” and the deadly “natural.”

Medical practice requires an understanding of cause and effect

The human body operates according to certain causal principles. If we wish to make a change in our health, we must understand some of those causal principles and act according to our understanding. To act without a rational basis is to disconnect our goals from their achievement. Irrationality does not guarantee failure — it just means that success, to the extent that it happens, will be due to other factors that our goals.

The study of human health is especially vulnerable to errors of reasoning

In the field of health, especially rigorous rationality is necessary for at least five reasons:

  1. The human body will solve, or at least try to solve most problems on its own. This makes establishing causality due external factors quite difficult and introduces biases such as the placebo effect and the regression fallacy.
  2. The body is very complex! Because it evolved over billions of years, the causal relationships in the body are extremely complex and interdependent.   For example, even if we know that the body has too little of a certain substance, taking that substance may:
    a: not do anything
    b: cause the body to produce even less of the substance or c: cause an unpredictable side effect. On the other hand, if the body has too much of something, then the solution may be to a: consume less of that substance b: consume more of that substance or
    c: the consumption has no relationship at all to the level of that substance.
  3. It can be difficult to quantitatively measure the extent to which health problems are solved. While some things can be measured, many things, such as pain levels are very difficult to quantify.
  4. It is difficult to isolate causal factors in human beings since changes in health take time to develop and we can’t control every factor during an experiment or dissect human subjects when it is over.
  5. Humans tend to be irrational when it comes to their own mortality! We fear death, leading us to irrational over or under spending on health as well as being especially vulnerable to all the logical fallacies.

Scientifically sound research is needed to identity truths in medicine

There is a name for the field that applies rigor to the discovery of facts about nature: science. Science has been so successful in improving the state of human knowledge that many irrational, anti-scientific quacks have begun to use the term “scientific” to describe anti-scientific practices and ideas. In response to this, the medical community has come up with a term which identifiers the distinguishing aspect of rationality: “evidence based medicine.” This phrase is a necessary redundancy that identifies the essential characteristic of science: that it is based on empirical evidence. The alternative to non-evidence based science is not science at all, but emotionalism – “I feel it is true, so it must be.”

In the last hundred years, we have discovered certain practices for ensuring the conclusions of our medical experiments are valid. We know experimentally that observing these practices leads to more accurate conclusions. Let me emphasize that: the truth of medical claims is strongly correlated with the degree to which experiments follow accepted scientific standards. There are a number of objective scales for measuring the quality of an experiment.

Five characteristics of evidence-based medical studies

  1. The experiment and its results are fully described in enough detail to reproduce and compare the results
  2. There is a randomized control group
  3. The selection of control subjects is double blind
  4. The methods of randomization and blinding are accurately described and appropriate
  5. There is a description of withdrawals and dropouts.

Further reading:

 


Addendum: How to judge health claims

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